Back in the late 70s when I was looking for somewhere to put my roots down and start a family I never considered Bolton ... until I visited on a shopping trip to buy an engagement ring for my wife to be.
The warm and friendly people of Bolton I met that day changed my mind about the town and I also discovered the brilliant shopping centre with its unique multi-trader market place attracting visitors from all over the UK.
We settled in the town and over the years I proudly invited friends and family to ‘show off’ the shops and the majestic Le Mans Crescent
Bolton had everything...the museum and library .. a great theatre .. welcoming restaurants of all kinds .. even first class football within walking distance of the centre .. two great cinemas, one with the ‘music history’ of Hendrix/Orbison/Berry/Walkers all appearing there.
As the years went by we enjoyed Victoria Square. We were the people of Bolton! Wanderers celebrations/Royal visits/New Year's Eve/charity bashes/firework displays et al.
Surely no one could spoil this town...it would take a thousand years!
Last week I made a rare visit to the town centre with my two young grandsons. We did visit the museum first which they enjoyed.
C’mon I’ll take you to a nice little outdoor cafe called Tiffany's, nice people, we can sit outside and watch the world go by. Oh, sorry boys it’s all boarded up. Making do with a ‘pound cafe’ coffee and gingerbread men we sat on the stone seats.
‘What’s that musky smell grandad?’ ‘Why is that man lying on the floor asking for change?’
That 20 minutes on those seats was enlightening. Drug dealing in open view, our town now inhabited by the criminal elements of the world.
A rare elderly Boltonian walks briskly across the square before it gets dark heading towards the bus station. I want to speak, to ask questions to communicate with the Bolton I know. He looks defeated, resigned with a shake of the head at the beggars and thieves around him, inhabiting our once great town.
The statues of philanthropists and the heroic war dead who gave everything for the future of this town must look on and weep. Where did it all go wrong? So we left, me with a tear in my eye and the boys heading to McDonald's. They will never know the Bolton I knew.
What have they done?